Frequent Flyers Have No Right to Complain
I’ve been reading your excellent magazine for years. Isn’t it high time you instituted a policy against printing those long-winded, highly-charged and often poorly-written letters that are copies of those sent by angry frequent flyers to their respective airlines? As a former travel planner, I can tell why many of these customers don’t get responses from the airlines.
Most frequent flyers, especially those with annual mileage in the hundreds of thousands, do not pay for their own tickets but have them reimbursed or actually paid for by the employer. If someone in first class used credit card miles or a gift certificate from the airline in order to upgrade a seat instead of actual flying, why is he less deserving than someone who got their upgrade free?
Business flyers have been having it both ways for years … that is, the company pays for their travel but the traveler gets the mileage and all the freebies. Even those who pay for their own tickets know that the airline has the right to stop its reward program any time it chooses. Once one stops, they all will, as evidenced by the policy begun by Delta and adopted by all the other airlines when after 9/11 they stopped paying U.S. travel agents commissions on sales of airline tickets.
The buyer, not the traveler, is the airline’s actual customer. How or whether they choose to reward their customers is their prerogative. Most travelers should be glad they still do.
With all the screaming and threats of late, it’s no wonder the airlines have ceased listening to the rest of us on issues that matter.
An Either/Or Proposition
Although I am concerned that the United VP has not yet responded to Michael Anisfeld (Letters, September 2003), as beneficiary of UA’s new Global Services, (but earned it actually flying/spending on UA) I would like to ask Michael to consider this: Who is the better customer, the one who buys $1,000,000 worth in your store, or the one who comes in often and spends a lot of time in your store but only buys $30,000 worth?
Finally, UA is the first to assign a revenue consideration to loyalty.
Can’t Get Enough of a Good Thing
I recently saw a newspaper article about the rapid expansion of AirTran airlines. It seems they are highly rated by the flying public, and doing well, and expanding their routes at a rapid rate. I think that’s great. When an airline performs well and gives us the service we deserve at a low price, the expansion of that airline is all to the good. The Big Sick Six have a cloudy future if they don’t reform. But I predict they will finally get the message, or most of them will. Bankruptcy is a tough way to get their attention, but that’s the free enterprise system. If you don’t compete well, you won’t make much money.
On another subject, I hope you will consider broadening the coverage of your magazine to say more about the service, efficiency, routes, and pricing of the airlines. A good frequent flyer program doesn’t help much if you have to buy an overpriced ticket to get the miles, or if you have to put up with indifferent service. Regarding routes, perhaps you have some suggestions as to where airlines might expand their service. For example, it seems logical to me that Southwest Airlines should be flying a lot of routes into Mexico. And it also seems logical to me that they could find a way to add another type of aircraft without running up their maintenance costs. We all know how resourceful Southwest is, and I do believe they can do these things.
Disdain for the Plane that Landed Gently in Maine
I embarked on a trip of a lifetime a month or so ago — that coming from a man who has been almost everywhere in the world. The difference is, on this trip I would be flying Concorde transatlantic both ways.
My return Concorde trip was interesting, to say the least. At 51,000 feet, we were flying at mach 2 for about 30 minutes when everyone was jilted out of their seats by what felt something like turbulence.
The captain came on, saying that there seemed to be something a bit wrong with one of the engines and that it had burped a couple times.
Needless to say, about 10 minutes after that, it happened again, but this time it continued. The captain at that point shut down the No. 2 engine.
He came on saying that Concorde was designed for supersonic travel. And as such she needs all of her engines to sustain that speed. With him shutting down one of the engines, supersonic speed could not be maintained and we would have to revert to subsonic flight for the remainder of the trip.
Of course, this meant to me that the length of our flight would be significantly increased. I did not know just how much, but with some quick calculation I figured we would still have about 4 hours on board before landing.
Hmmmm, I thought, a 7-hour Concorde flight? This bird can’t fly for that long.
Sure enough, about an hour later, the captain came back on and said that we would be making an unscheduled landing in Bangor, Maine.
We landed without incident. They put us on a local school bus and took us into a completely closed Bangor airport. We cleared customs and immigration and sat.
We sat for nearly 4 hours waiting to hear something from BA about how we would be getting our butts to New York for our Friday night.
Then one of the invisible staff members came in and said that BA had figured out a way to get us to New York. You see, BA183, a 747 that had departed from Heathrow after us, was in close range and could land, pick us up, then continue on its way to New York. Cool.
So we stuck out our collective thumbs, and sure enough, a 747 swooped down to give us a lift.
I boarded the 747, and was told by the purser that all premium seats were filled and that I would have to take a seat in economy. But what about all those empty biz class seats I see there? “Do you have anything up front?” I asked.
“No sir, those seats are taken” he replied.
“But I have an assigned seat upstairs in business class,” I said.
“I’m sorry sir, but we are not going to disrupt our premium passengers anymore than they already have been,” he blurted.
WHAT DID HE JUST SAY???
I’m a Concorde passenger! One step above first class. You don’t get more premium than Concorde passengers!
I sat my butt down in an economy seat for the next hour until we got into New York.
Given the circumstances, one would think that BA would have a special team waiting for us. NOPE.
We left BA183, headed to immigration where I pointed out to one of the agents that we had already cleared customs and immigration in Bangor. “That’s impossible, sir,” I was told.
“No really! Here’s my passport stamp to prove it. You see, we were Concorde passengers and Concorde had to make an emergency landing. This 747 just stopped by to pick us up.”
You should have seen the look on this poor guy’s face.
Now there were nearly 90 passengers behind me wondering what to do, and where the hell BA staff was to help us out.
Getting into the terminal, there was absolutely NO BA STAFF.
I’ve missed my connecting flight, others had limos that would not wait, hotel rooms got cancelled, and tour buses had departed on their tours. Now what?
Some lowly BA supervisor walked by. He handed me a business card and told everyone to call BA customer relations on Monday.
I, having missed my flight to California by 5 hours, was not about to have some BA staff supervisor tell me that I would have to call BA customer relations ON MONDAY!
I got my hotel for the night, I got my meals, and my taxi, as well as a handful of calling cards. But I think this could have been handled a lot better.
Monday rolled around and I got through to a VP of Customer Relations for North America. Voice mail, no less. But still a step in the right direction.
Thirty minutes later I received a call from BA London. They knew everything about our flight, the mechanical failure, the unscheduled landing, the diverting of BA183. EXCEPT one thing … BA London had no clue that we had no clue. They didn’t know that NOT EVEN ONE BA staff member assisted us, and that we sat alone for nearly 4 hours in a closed airport.
They had no clue that BA’s procedures for interrupted Concorde passengers had failed. MISERABLY!
I did get an apology from the rep, and she was very understanding. She would call me back tomorrow with some form of solution and make it good.
She did call back. She offered me 200,000 BA miles. More than enough miles needed for a first-class ticket to almost anywhere they fly. NICE!
But what about my fellow passengers on Concorde? I wanted BA to take a proactive stand in trying to locate them and make it right for them as well. She assured me that she would do her best to locate and extend the same offer.
Editor’s note: The Concorde has seen its final days. As Bill’s letter shows, it wasn’t always the height of convenience or luxury. Still, it was one of the most sought-after awards in the frequent flyer industry.
Randy had a chance to take one of the final flights, and will reflect upon his experience in a later issue.